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Frosty, Santa and Bambi the replicant

December 06, 2007|Denise Hamilton | Denise Hamilton is the editor of "Los Angeles Noir" and author of the Eve Diamond crime novels. Her new novel, "The Last Embrace," will be published in July.

Angelenos have been known to dismiss deer as nothing more than oversize, hoofed pests. They're the bane of gardeners, sneaking in at night to devour lavishly tended plants. They trample flower beds. They carry Lyme disease.

But something happens each December. Seemingly overnight, herds of deer sprout on suburban front lawns. They dip their heads to crop grass, nuzzle their young and blink cheerily in the twilight. I refer, of course, to the motorized, electronic deer sculptures that jostle with inflatable candy canes, snowmen and Santa sleds for lawn space.

It seems that the more we encroach on the territory of real deer, paving over animal paths and tearing out foliage to build our subdivisions, the more we embrace fake deer. Animatronic deer don't eat rosebuds, leave droppings on our lawns or carry diseased ticks. They do what we tell them, all the while moving their heads slowly to Christmas carols.

This seems a particularly suburban value -- to prefer the fake, the replicant, the silicon idealized version, over the authentic thing itself. With so much of our environment out of our individual control -- drought, fires, global warming -- it's a simple way to reassert dominance over nature.

Any season of the year, Angelenos touch up brown lawns with green paint or transform our semiarid landscape into English country gardens. Come Christmastime, our frontyards evolve into personal movie sets. We can tinker with reality even more, creating a rugged, snowy wildlife narrative, even though it might be 92 degrees on Christmas Day with kids splashing in the pool.

Sometimes I wonder what the real deer think when they come down from their hillsides and catch a glimpse of their electronic brethren. Do they recognize the simulacra of themselves? Does Bambi nuzzle up to its wire mother? Do coyotes nip at their electronic hooves?

When we humans are tucked into our beds, visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads, do the electronic deer dream they are Santa's reindeer, soaring above the vast polar reaches with Rudolph? Do they imagine running off to join their flesh-and-blood relatives just over the next ridge? Or do android deer just dream of electric rosebuds?

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